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UCLA Basketball Thoughts: In the Abyss of Irrelevance

Last week we were talking about Ben Howland team making a season-saving run in our remaining regular season games to somehow get into the Big Dance. The closing stretch on paper at least was set up favorably for UCLA. Bruins theoretically could finish up the regular season with a 7-1 or 8-0 record, and then somehow sneak into the Big Dance by winning at least 2 games in the Pac-12 tournament. DC Bruins had laid out the blueprint noting how the Bruins could have positioned themselves for a run in the tournament by finishing in the top-4 of the conference.

Well after getting drubbed by a very well coached Cal team at home, those scenarios are not looking so hot for the Bruins. Think about it for a moment. In perhaps the worst Pac-12 conference in last 30 years, Bruins may not finish even in the top-4. Perhaps the Bruins can still manage to put together a 6-0 finish to the regular season, but at this point winning a game against Arizona at Tucson looks to be a long shot. On top of that it is hard to imagine a realistic scenario of Bruins getting into the Dance by winning 4 games in 4 days during the Pac-12 tournament. A program like UCLA should never be in that situation.

Yet that is the situation we are in. It looks more than likely UCLA is set to miss the Big Dance for the second time in three years under Howland. This will of course be the third time under Howland's career Bruins will find themselves without a dance ticket. But we have always given him a mulligan for his first miss attributing it the preceding dysfunctional and incompetent regime.

This brings us couple of issues - a short term one and a long term one - pertaining to UCLA basketball. Let's get to them after jump.

Let's start with the short term one and we have already had some vigorous discussion concerning this issue in the comment threads from this weekend. The question we have in front of us is whether the Bruins should accept a bid to the NIT or some other junk post-season tournament. Currently statsheet projects Bruins as an 8th seed in the NIT (I can already picture Chianti talking this up in his weekly BS "word from Westwood").

Let's be clear here. These days we have 68 teams making it to the Big Dance. So for any tournament that at best positions a program as the 69th best program in the country ... is well junk. Not sure how many people will actually watch the Bruins playing in the NIT except for the reasons of morbid curiosity. Still there are some good points on why Bruins could consider playing in the tournament.

Class of 66 makes some compelling arguments on why Bruins should not think about the NIT:

We Are UCLA -- We should not accept invitations to meaningless tournaments and bowl games.

We need to put to rest the idea that backing into bowls or begging into tournaments is a good thing.

We should not enter post season play unless we have earned the right with a season worthy of reward.

We demean post season play, and diminish our brand, when we accept invitations to loser bowls/tournaments.

We need to just say no. Strap On won't. So we need to stake out the position.

(And, BTW - the fan base has made clear that it does not want to go to these bowls - it does not buy tickets. So, we embarass ourselves and lose money. Nice brand management, strap on.)

BlueMe's perspective is a bit different but is also worth taking note:

I agree that the NIT/CBI is a bullshit tournament. Even the real tournament is bullshit now...69 teams. There is no way in hell that 69 teams are out there that deserve to be playing for a national title. We are having a bullshit season in a bullshit conference. We play in front of 5,000 mosly listless fans and haven't been relevant in almost 4 years now. We have no right to "have standards" and calling tournaments not worthy of our participation. Play the goddamn games with pride and integrity and be thankful anyone wants to showcase this garbage. Then after the games are over fire the goddamn coach and bring someone in that will put this program back to where we all want it.

DC Bruins thinks players should decide but islandbruin wants to add caveats that make sense:

I like the idea of the players deciding. After all, they are the ones juggling their schedules and "strapping it on" for real.

However, if they choose to go, it has to be for the right reasons- the seniors aren't ready to say goodbye to UCLA basketball, the players want more time to be on the court with their teammates, etc.

It can't be because they are proud to make the NIT, they are in the postseason, etc. The last thing this program needs is tweets bragging about making the NIT.

I don't know how you can figure out the motivation for a "yes" vote. But if it is for the right reasons, then I agree that letting the players decide makes sense.

By the way, I would not give Howland a vote.

Those are all valid takes. At this point we are still not sure how to feel about it. The anger and frustration here is that we are even in this position in a year during which we were supposed to build on last year's average season and bring home the conference crown. At this point we will include a poll at the end of this post and would love to hear from more members of the community on this topic.

Now that is the short term issue. There is a long term topic that we should also think about as we head into this week. There is a lot of talk about looking forward to next season as Bruin fans are hoping the arrival of blue chips recruits such as Shabazz Muhammad, Tony Parker, Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams will do the trick and wash away all the problems of this dysfunctional program. I'd think again.

If Chianti Dan wants to hold on to Howland and his own job for another season by pointing to the hope around these recruits, we should be skeptical of those short-sighted arguments for number of reasons.

First, even if those recruits arrive in Westwood, the chemistry issue stemming from Howland's questionable personnel management issues will not go away. At this point we do not have any elite point guard on our roster. May be folks want to pin their hopes on Larry Drew Jr. However, we are not going to be counting on North Carolina transfers to getting the job done after going through Brian Morrison (you remember him? ) and the Wear Twins.

It is not clear whether Kyle Anderson can handle pg duties at D-1 level and there is also the question about his lateral quickness (he is after called "Slo-Mo"). It is also not clear how Drew will react to the min allocation to a freshman. After all he came over here from Chappell Hill after losing his mins to a freshman guard at UNC.

I am sure Shabazz will get his mins for the year before waltzing into the NBA. But what about the other guys? We also have no idea how Howland will give mins to guys like Jordan Adams, when Tyler Lamb is entrenched at the 3 spot. What about mins for Norm Powell. Howland hasn't had a good track record of managing the roster effectively, keeping people happy, resulting in a toxic, unhappy atmosphere around his program. How will that dynamics improve dramatically within a year when we are going to have a logjam in the backcourt? How are we going to find minutes for someone like Tony Parker at the 5, when Howland remains in love with the Wear Twins?

There is also the issue of Howland's schemes. He no longer is the defensive oriented coach we all worshipped in his early years. It is not clear any more that he gives out mins based on defensive mindset, based on what we have seen on the court for last 3 years. There is also the offensive issue. The idea of Kyle Anderson dribbling around the perimeter aimless for 25-30 seconds before getting ready to drive doesn't really sound all that exciting. It is unclear how Howland's schemes will actually optimize the talents of Muhammad and Anderson.

Even if the Bruins achieve some short term success in the form of a Pac-12 title and then a deep run that results in flameout at the Elite-8, we will be back to where we are now - the abyss of irrelevance- once Muhammad jumps over the NBA. That is why UCLA alums, students and fans, who care about the long term health of this program, should think beyond instant gratification of landing couple of blue chip recruits.

This is a deeply dysfunctional and sick basketball program under a basketball coach who has lost his touch and is too stubborn to realize it. It's an unstable situation that will only get worse, unless there is new and fresh leadership at the top of the athletic department. It underscores the need for a new athletic director, who can make the decisions on recharging the greatest basketball program that represents the legacy of Coach John R. Wooden.